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Old 01-05-2010, 03:08 PM  
oldognewtrick
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Default Home Brew

Nestor, you have some experience with home brewing beverages, how much trouble is it to brew a batch of beer? My son-in-law and I discussed over the holidays finding yet another home hobby and wondered, before we get to serious about this, whats required of time, money and is it worth the trouble you go to for the rewards.



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Old 01-05-2010, 06:34 PM  
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Well, the difference between the US and Canada is that all alcoholic beverages are a lot more expensive in Canada because of the hefty taxes the government puts on them. I haven't bought beer for about 20 years, but a 750 ml (which is very close to 1/5 of a US gallon) bottle of vodka costs anywhere from 20 to 30 dollars Canadian, depending on the brand. A 12 of beer is exactly 1 Canadian gallon of beer, and that costs about 21 dollars at the beer vendors I've been told. When I was in the US years ago, I could buy a 6 pack for 3 or 4 dollars.

If you like beer, then you can definitely make VERY tasty beer at home for a small fraction of what it costs to buy the stuff here in Canada. What you'll need to make truly great tasting beer is a very large pail of some sort. I use a 10 gallon pail that was used for swimming pool chlorination crystals. (I understand that it's better to use a "food grade" plastic which is much purer than general purpose plastics with no fillers in it. But, I guess I just wasn't that concerned about chemicals leeching out of the plastic, and over the past 20 years I can't say that I've ever suffered any ill health effects from not using food grade plastics in my beer and wine making.

Any place that sells beer and wine making supplies will sell 5 gallon primary fermenters, and often they will simply be a 5 gallon pail. It's not a good idea to use these because they are JUST 5 gallons, and when you allow for the foam that forms over the beer while it's fermenting, that can add another 2 inches which you won't have room for. If you can't find any large plastic pails from the places listed under "Containers and Cartons" in your yellow pages, then you should be able to find proper 7 or 12 gallon primary fermentors at the beer and wine making stores. You need the extra room to allow for the foam that forms over the beer during the first few days of fermentation.

Basically, the process is as follows:

1. Fill your PRIMARY fermentor (which need be nothing more than a big pail or even a garbage can lined with a food grade plastic bag) with about 3 gallons of cool water, and dissolve the recommended amount of dextrose sugar in that water. Dextrose is recommended, but I never noticed any difference between using dextrose and ordinary granulated sugar you can buy cheap from Walmart or Zellers. I honestly think that the people working at the beer and wine making stores recommend Dextrose sugar because they sell Dextrose sugar. If they recommended ordinary granulated sugar, then you'd buy it cheaper from Wal-Mart instead of from them. Any place listed under "Wine & Beer Making Supplies" will tell you what the standard amount of sugar to add is, and I think it's 6 to 8 cups of sugar for 5 gallons of beer. I would just add 2 two liter bottles of granulated sugar for making 10 gallons of beer.)

2. Stir the contents of a beer or cider making kit into a large pot of very hot water so it all dissolves in the hot water. Beer kits will have a syrup inside it about the consistancy of pancake syrup, or a bit thicker. Cider kits are more expensive, but the liquid inside them is as thin as water.

3. Pour the hot water from Step #2 into the cold sugar water in Step #1, and then add more cold water to come to a total of 5 or 10 gallons. I always made my beer 10 gallons at a time because the amount of work is about the same whether you're making a 5 or 10 gallon batch, so making larger quantities is more efficient from a labour perspective.

4. Now, add your yeast. The beer and wine making stores will tell you that you should have both a thermometer and hydrometer to measure the temperature and specific gravity of the beer before you add the yeast. If the beer is too hot, it could kill the yeast cells. Knowing the density of the water before you add the yeast will give you it's potential alcohol content after fermentation. I had both a thermometer and hydrometer 20 years ago, and found that I stopped using them just like everyone else. I just have one of those plastic foil temperature gauges that people stick to their windows stuck onto my primary fermentor, and use that. I've never had yeast die on me cuz the water was too hot, so my guess is as long as your water is luke warm or cooler, it's OK to add the yeast.

There is beer yeast and there is wine yeast. Use beer yeast if you want a nicer tasting beer. If you want a strong beer, add more sugar in step #1 and use wine yeast (which will tolerate an alcohol content of up to 15% before fermentation stops).

5. Now, cover your beer to prevent bugs and such from getting into it. I use clear plastic lawn bags so that I can check the fermentation is going rapidly by looking through the clear plastic. It'll take anywhere from a week to 2 weeks in the primary fermentor for the beer to ferment. The fermentation continues at a progressively slower rate after a week to 2 weeks, and most people will then siphon their beer into a "SECONDARY" fermentor. A primary fermentor need be nothing more than a pail. A Secondary fermentor will be a large jug with a neck on it in which you can fit something called an "air lock". An air lock allows the CO2 accumulating inside the secondary fermentor to escape without allowing air to get into the secondary fermentor. I always used a 10 gallon primary fermentor and two 5 gallon secondary fermentors. The secondary fermentor can be either glass or plastic. Plastic gets stained a brownish colour after a while, but glass secondary fermentors can break if you drop them, so be aware that dropping a full glass secondary fermentor can result in major water damage in a house.

6. Once the fermentation rate in the secondary fermentor has slowed to a crawl (judging by how often you see the air lock "bubble"), then it's time to bottle your beer. I would use plastic 1 liter soft drink bottles for my beer because of the 1 liter size of my beer steins, but any container that can be closed tightly will do. Basically, what you do is siphon your beer from the two secondary fermentors back into the one primary fermentor and add some sugar. Typically, about 1 to 2 cups of sugar for 5 gallons of beer is about what you'd use (if I recall correctly).

You then siphon the sweetened beer from the primary fermentor into the bottles, and seal the bottles immediately. The fermentation process will continue inside the bottles. The by-product of fermentation of sugar is the production of CO2 gas, and it's this secondary fermentation that goes on inside the bottle that carbonates your beer. Another by-product of fermentation of sugar is the formation of dead yeast cells at the bottom of the primary and secondary fermentors as well as right inside the bottles. Basically, you soon learn how to pour (or "cant") the beer off into a large beer mug without disturbing the "dregs" (dead yeast cells) on the bottom of the bottle. The longer you leave the beer bottled, the more solid the dregs on the bottom will become, and the easier it will be to cant the beer off into a mug or stein without disturbing the dregs.

Also, you want to keep your beer mugs or steins in your freezer. You pour cold beer into a cold beer mug or stein. Pouring cold beer into a room temperature mug causes the beer to warm up quickly with the resulting loss of CO2 in solution in the beer. It's that CO2 that gives the beer much of it's taste, so you want to keep the CO2 from coming out of solution as bubbles for as long as possible to keep the beer tasting good as you drink it. Sometimes you see special beer glasses with "scratches" on the bottom of the glass made by a lazer to promote the formation of CO2 bubbles on the bottom of the glass rather than on the sides of the glass. It's a stupid idea from someone who knows more about selling stuff to people with more money than brains than he does about beer. You WANT to keep the CO2 dissolved in the beer, and the best way to do that is to pour COLD beer into a COLD glass and drink it outdoors in a Manitoba winter.

And, that's really about all there is to making great tasting beer.

PS:
Did you notice that beer steins will always have a hinged metal lid? This feature dates back to the middle ages in Germany where it was believed that the Black Death (the Bubonic Plague) was caused by flying insects falling into the beer men drank. The cover on beer steins was a legal requirement and every Inn that sold beer had to provide the beer in mugs with covered tops to protect the beer inside from flying bugs dropping into the beer. This is why those metal covers are always "cone" shaped... to shed any bugs on them.

Beer Stein Article – “A Brief History of Beer Steins”

Today we know that the flying insects were never responsible for the Plagues that swept across Europe, but the traditional hinged cover on beer steins still carries on as a quaint tradition rather than a legal requirement.



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Old 01-05-2010, 07:02 PM  
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Having never tasted a home brew, whats the difference in taste and how do you tell the alcohol content? Is there any difference between home brew and the beer you get at the local micro breweries?

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Old 01-05-2010, 10:21 PM  
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I always found the taste of my own home made beer to be "just plain better", and that wasn't just pride. I would often bring my own beer to parties and social gatherings, and people really liked it. I tended to find that beers from the major breweries in Canada like Molson and Labatt's had a "metallic" (kinda) taste to them. My own beer just had a smooth agreeable taste. About the only commercial beer I can say that I liked the taste of as much as my own beer is a beer made in Japan called "Kirin" beer. If you can buy that stuff locally, you'll have an idea of what I found my own home made beer tasted like.

I expect that if you pop down to your local micro-brewery you'll probably also get a good idea of what home made beer will taste like. The thing is that these breweries will make several different kinds of beer, and will be trying to impart different tastes into each one. I think if you just go and ask for their standard "run of the mill" lager, the beer you get will likely be similar to what you'd be likely to make at home. Be aware, however, that the beer you get in a microbrewery will be cold, as it should be. No beer tastes good when it's warm. Try your local microbrewery, and if you like what you taste, then try making it at home. It's certainly one of the least expensive hobbies you can take up. I've been making beer and wine for well over 20 years with a large pail and some 5 gallon glass bottles (called "carboys") that altogether wouldn't cost more than $100. The 1 liter plastic bottles I used to bottle it were all soft drink bottles, and I found that those collected quickly. And, I've made probably thousands of gallons of beer at a cost of no more than $30 for a 10 gallon batch. That's like $30 for 120 standard size bottles of beer. Let's put it this way, it's an inexpensive hobby, and the initial investment in equipment will last you a life time if you choose to continue making beer. Most people start by making wine (as I did) and lose interest because the wine they make isn't nearly as good as the wine they can buy. That was my experience with wine too, and so I ended up making wine coolers instead. But I found that I could make beer that was every bit as good as the store bought stuff easily and without having to let it age for years before drinking it. You typically can be drinking home made beer within a month after making it, and if you make it 10 gallons at a time as I did, then you almost have to try hard to run out of it.
Like I say, I always had anywhere from 10 to 20 gallons of beer fermenting and another 5 to 10 gallons in my magic fridge.

The only way to really tell the alcohol content of a home made wine or beer is with a hydrometer. Alcohol has a lower density than water, so the more alcohol there is in the wine or beer, the lower it's density. A hydrometer is made to a very exact size with a very precise amount of weight in it so that it can measure water density. The higher the hydrometer floats in your home made wine or beer, the less alcohol there is in it. Conversely, the lower it floats, the more alcohol is in it. Towards the end of last year when I decided to stop making beer, I was just drinking to help me sleep at night. I just used plenty of sugar and used a wine making yeast instead of beer years, and I made a high enough alcohol beer that it would have me staggering off to bed instead of walking off to bed if I dipped too deeply into it.

Home made wine will often seem to have a very high alcohol content because it'll give you a splitting headache that can be mistaken for a hangover if you drink too much premature wine. That headache is caused by the tannin, which is also known as "tannic acid", in the young wine. Tannin, or tannic acid, is the astringic taste you get when you bite onto a grape seed. Swallowing too much tannin will give you a headache, and sometimes people think that headache is a hangover from the alcohol in the wine. It's not. It's caused by consuming too much tannin. You can find tannic acid in any chemistry set, and you can give yourself a headache any time by swallowing a teaspoon of it.

When I made wine, I would buy wine kits and take the tannin out (or take as much of it out as I could). You can tell the tannin because it's medium brown in colour. I would make the wine without ANY tannin in it, and then mix that wine with soft drinks to make "wine coolers" which weren't half bad. Otherwise, drinking wine that hasn't aged at least a couple of years is like drinking a mixture of vodka and grapefruit juice. It's sour, not particularily palatable and alcoholic.

Not sure if I answered your questions or not. I don't know if there's such a thing as "food grade" plastic bags, but it wouldn't be hard to find out. If you can line a small garbage can with a food grade plastic bag, that'd make a good primary fermenter. Also, you can get a 5 gallon plastic carboy simply by buying a 5 gallon jug of bottled water, and so that's a fast easy way to get a secondary fermentor. Buy two $12 beer kits, a 10 pound bag of sugar and just try making it once, and bottle it in 2 liter soft drink bottles. If you like the taste of what you make, then everything you make from then on will be as good or better. You will also need a siphon to siphon the beer out of the primary fermentor and into the secondary fermentors, and then from the secondary fermentors back into the primary for bottling. In beer and wine making, you move your beer or wine from place to place by siphoning it.

Maybe just take a 5 gallon plastic jug from distilled water to any beer and wine making shop and ask for a single hole rubber stopper that will fit the jug mouth size. Most beer and wine making shops will sell single hole stoppers (and no hole stoppers) in various sizes to fit different size openings.

If you want, see if you can get some large food grade plastic bags, a big pail (minimum 10 gallons), two 5 gallon jugs from distilled water, a big bag of sugar, and I'll advise you on this forum on how to make your beer. The beer kits will include a packet of beer yeast. Yeast multiplies during the fermentation, so you don't need to add the whole packet of yeast. If you add half of one packet to 10 gallons of unfermented beer, it'll take maybe a half day longer to ferment, but it'll ferment to the same alcohol content as if you'd added both packets of yeast.

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Old 01-05-2010, 11:21 PM  
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Oh nice. I had a very nice read Nestor! Thanks for the info.

I never thought of buying a very expensive beer at all. I'd go with a hot coffee instead. I suppose coffee beans are cheaper than beer bottles over there?

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Old 01-06-2010, 08:24 AM  
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Frozenstar:

Did you know that Louis Pasteur was not only the inventor of the bacteria killing process we use today known as Pasteurization, but was also the first one to solve the age old mystery of why grape juice will sometimes turn into vinegar instead of wine?

Louis Pasteur was aware of the fact that bacteria and viruses are what caused diseases, and Napoleon Boneparte recognized the Louis understanding of micro-organisms could prove useful in solving this centuries old question. Since wine production was central to the French economy in the 1700's, Boneparte appointed Pasteur to head up an investigation into that question.

Pasteur discovered that there were many different kinds of micro-organisms that grew naturally on grapes outdoors, but that two varieties of fungii were of principal importance because they both consumed sugar and reproduced rapidly. One kind of micro-organism would break down the sugar (fructose molecules in this case) into glucose molecules and then convert them into acetic acid (to make vinegar). The other would do the same, but convert the sugar into ethyl alcohol (to make wine). And, in a manner which suggest the hand of Mother Nature at work, the acetic acid produced by the first fungii would kill the second kind of fungii, and the alcohol produced by the second fungii would kill the first kind of fungii. Louis realized the both fungii were in a war to take over the grape juice, and the fungii to gain the upper hand earliest would win control over the whole batch, and that determined it's fate.

Pasteur's solution was as brilliant as it was simple, and that was to simply KILL EVERY LIVING THING in the grape juice, and then add wine yeast to it. That way, the wine yeast fungii would always gain the upper hand because of the lack of any competition.

And, even today, homebrewers that make their own wine from grapes will add Camden Tablets to their grape juice to sterilize it several days before adding the wine yeast. And, the wine kits you buy to make wine from are normally pasteurized to ensure that the grape juice concentrate in them is sterile.

Louis Pasteur had as great an impact on the wine industry as he did on the food industry.

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Old 01-07-2010, 01:28 PM  
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Well Nestor, I am on a quest to collect the required manufacturing devices to start yet another hobby. I am a collector of things that collect dust. I use to be able to bring a new gun or two into the house and tell my wife "What? This gun? I had it for a long long time. No it's not new" and get away with it. Brewing jugs of a fermenting liquid may just be the grain of sand that tips the scale to having me committed. Oh well, after 21 years I guess she might be getting use to my flaws.

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Old 01-07-2010, 02:02 PM  
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My wife has also put a stop to all new hobbies until all old ones are out of the garage.

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Old 01-07-2010, 09:22 PM  
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TxBuilder: Maybe start making a still so you can produce hard liquor in the garage. That'll put the Fear of God into her.

Oldog/Newtrick: OK, let me tell you what you really need:



1. The large pail on the right is the "Primary" fermentor. Any good size pail will do, but I suppose it's best that it be made from food grade plastic. If you can find large plastic bags made of food grade plastic, you can use any pail and just line the pail with a bag. You need a primary fermentor of some sort and some way of covering it so that bugs and stuff don't get into the fermenting beer.

2. The large glass bottle on the left is the "Secondary" fermentor, and is also called a 5 gallon "carboy". 5 gallon carboys come in both glass and plastic, and each has it's advantages and disadvantages.
During the initial stage of fermentation that takes place in the primary fermentor, the fermentation will progress so agressively that you can often hear a "Shhhhh" in the room from the millions of CO2 bubbles coming out of the fermenting beer. Because the fermentation is so rapid, you don't need to be too careful about keeping the air out of the primary fermentor because CO2 gas will be coming out of it at a high rate all the time.
Once the fermentation slows down after 4 or 5 days, you siphon the beer from the primary fermentor into the secondary fermentor. If you're planning to make 10 gallons, it's a good idea to have the primary fermentor up on a bench of some sort right from the start so that you can siphon the beer out of it into the secondary fermentor(s) without having to lift a pail with 10 gallons of beer in it (which can be very hard to do by yourself).
You will also need an "air lock" for the secondary fermentor, but they don't show one in that picture. They only cost about $3 or so.

3. It's a good idea to have a large plastic spoon as shown in that picture. When you add sugar to your water, you want to use a spoon like the one in the picture to be able to stir up any sugar that's settled to the bottom of the primary fermentor without dipping your hands into the water. A long spoon like that allows you to make sure all the sugar is dissolved into the water, cuz you can feel sugar on the bottom using the spoon. You just stir any sugar up into the water to get all the sugar dissolved.

4. To the left of the spoon, you'll see a hard plastic tube with a red tip on the bottom of it. That plastic tube is for siphoning your beer. You push a food grade vinyl hose onto the top of this rigid plastic tube and use that assembly to siphon your beer out of the primary fermentor into the secondary fermentor. The red plastic tip on the bottom of the tube prevents you from sucking up the dregs that settle to the bottom of the primary fermentor. It has openings at the top so that it draws the beer from above, not below, the red plastic tip. Every place that sells beer and wine making supplies will sell food grade vinyl siphon hose.

5. You'll also need that hard plastic tube to the left of the brushes and in front of that bag with the white powder in it. The black plastic thingy at the bottom of that tube is a valve. When you're ready to bottle your beer, you siphon your beer from the secondary fermentors back into the primary fermentor and add a cup or two of sugar. Stir to dissolve all the sugar into the already fermented beer. Now, you connect your vinyl siphon hose to the plastic tube discussed in point #4 and get a siphon going so that you can siphon the sweetened beer out of the primary fermentor. Once you have that siphon going, you kink the siphon hose to stop the flow and stick this hard plastic tube with the black valve on the bottom onto your siphon hose. Now, you just insert this hard plastic tube in your bottles and press down on it. When you press down, the black plastic valve on the bottom of the tube opens, allowing that sweetened beer to flow into your bottle. Once the bottle is full, you just lift the tube out of the bottle and flow stops immediately as you take pressure off the valve. This little tool makes bottling your beer fast and easy. Cap each bottle immediately after filling it so that the CO2 produced by the renewed fermentation is trapped inside the bottle and serves to carbonate your beer.

The above 5 items are all you need to make a 5 gallon batch of beer. If you want to make 10 gallon batches at a time, you'll need a larger primary fermentor and a second 5 gallon seconary fermentor. You don't need any of the other stuff shown in that picture for either 5 or 10 gallon batches.

You'll also need to buy a "beer kit" and a bag of white granulated sugar. Here's what I have in my Windows "Cardfile" on how much sugar to add:

When making beer, add 5 cups or 1 kilogram of sugar for every beer kit (5 gallons) for a normal bodied beer. For a stronger beer, add 7 or 8 cups or 1 1/2 kilograms of sugar per beer kit. When making two beer kits, put 1 1/2 two kilogram bags or 3 kg of sugar in.

And, finally, you should buy some sterilizing solution called "sodium metabisulphite". Don't buy very much because it lasts a long time. You dissolve sodium metabisulphite crystals in water and use that solution to sterilize your primary and secondary fermentors before starting each batch. Save the sterilizing solution because it gets progressively more rank (harsh smelling) and therefore effective at sterilizing with time. (It's only when you can smell the stuff without gagging that you should pour it out and mix up some new sterilizing solution.) When I made beer, most times I'd siphon the beer out of the primary fermentor, rinse out that primary fermentor, and immediately start another batch of beer in it. So, about the only time I'd sterilize is before starting a batch of beer were the primary or secondary fermentors had been left empty for a while.

Even a small bag of sodium metabisulphite crystals will last you a decade or more because a one gallon jug of sterilizing solution only requires a few tablespoons of metabisulphite crystals, and each gallon jug you make typically lasts about a year.

(Truth is that you don't have to be as careful sterilizing your equipment as a new mother sterilizing baby bottles for her newborn. The alcohol in the beer you're making will kill almost everything that wants to grow in it, and the acid in your stomach will kill anything that survives your beer!)

And, always remember to live by the home brewer's motto:
"I'd rather have a full bottle in front of me than a full frontal lobotomy."

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Old 01-09-2010, 09:05 AM  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TxBuilder View Post
My wife has also put a stop to all new hobbies until all old ones are out of the garage.
Did your wife call my wife?


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